December 11 - January 1
Cloud Travel * Sponge Capital * Palm Arboretum * St. Petersburg Christmas Meeting * Mystery Island * Shark Teeth * Super Shelling * "Pitiful" Christmas * Sailing with Friends * Edison Home * Orange Harvest Back to Home Page
Day 143 - Monday, December 11
Near Tarpon Springs, Florida
28'26" North, 82'55" West When morning came, Dan was sick. He and Tricia spent the day sleeping in the front cabin. Tricia survived by listening to her new birthday CDs. She now knows the words to all of Aaron Carter's songs. I was feeling a bit better (probably because I didn't have anything left in my stomach), so I spent the day sitting in the cockpit to keep Zion company. Since Zion was the only healthy one, he got to spend the day piloting the boat. The seas were rough all day, and the fog was so thick that we only saw where the sun was for about one minute. It peeked out a little bit at two o'clock, then went back behind the fog. We spent the day travelling through a cloud. Zion had to steer by watching the GPS and the compass. There was nothing else to look at. We never saw another boat all day long. In fact, we couldn't see anything but fog and water. The water, though, was the most beautiful blue water that I've ever seen. Mostly it was dark, but as it passed through our prop you could see it was a clear, deep midnight blue, like a jewel. Zion's mackeral was still sitting in the cockpit, staring at us. We were all too sick to eat it, and we didn't have any ice along to refrigerate it. The temperature was warm, in the sixties, so we felt we should throw it back to the sea before it started to smell too much. It was a shame, because it was such a big, beautiful fish. Someday I hope we catch another one when we are actually hungry. When the sun set, Zion was ready for bed and Dan was ready to come out and pilot for the night. Then an amazing thing happened. The waves died down and the sea became calm. The fog broke up and you could see patches of stars in the sky. And a big, brilliant full moon came out and covered everything with a golden light. It was an absolutely gorgeous sight. After a day that was so miserable, I couldn't believe that I was actually feeling happy and lucky to be out at sea. Feelings are such changeable things, just like Mother Nature. We were able to steer by the stars, which is a lot easier than staring at the GPS constantly and waiting for it to tell you that you are off course. When you use the GPS to steer, your course is zig-zag at best. We can't use our compass at night because it doesn't have a light. But using the stars works great. When your GPS says that you are on the right heading, you look up at the sky and keep your mast lined up in a constant position between the brightest stars. Every half hour or so, you have to re-adjust to a new set of stars because they are slowly moving across the sky all night. After midnight the fog came back and we lost sight of the stars. But the waters were still gentle, so everyone was feeling a lot better. Dan and I took turns at the wheel giving the other a chance to nap. We had to steer by watching the GPS again. Our destination was a lighted daymark near shore twelve miles north of Tarpon Springs. Tarpon Springs is the place where the Intracoastal Waterway starts again. At four o'clock in the morning, the GPS told us that we had reached the daymark, but it was so foggy that we couldn't see it anywhere. The water was now only twelve feet deep, instead of one hundred feet. Since it would take a few more hours to actually reach Tarpon Springs, and it was dark and foggy, we dropped the anchor and turned in for a good, sound sleep.
Day 144 - Tuesday, December 12
Port Tarpon Marina, Tarpon Springs, Florida
Mile 151 on the Intracoastal Waterway We woke up at 9 a.m. It was still very foggy out, but at least it wasn't dark anymore. We pulled up our anchor and started south on our way to Tarpon Springs. We never did see the daymark that had been our destination. Because of the fog, we navigated by putting the position of the next daymark into the GPS. The daymarks were several miles apart. When we got near the next one, Zion and I sat up on the bow and searched through the fog for the marker. We couldn't see it anywhere even though Dan insisted that it was right ahead of us. Suddenly, it popped into sight thirty feet directly in front of the boat. We had been going very slowly, so it was easy to swerve out of the way. Our confidence in our GPS was restored. About noon, the fog started to break up just as we were reaching the entrance to Tarpon Springs. We had to travel up the Anclote River along a narrow, twisting channel. The channel was surrounded by sand bars and little emerald islands of trees and bushes that puffed right out of the water. The sky cleared and the sun shone brightly. It was a beautiful and cheerful return to civilization.
Apparently, all of the fishing boats had been sitting in the Tarpon Springs
marinas waiting for the skies to clear, too, because as we went up the channel
there was a constant string of fishing boats motoring past us out to the open
waters. I've never seen so many fishing boats going out at one time. Most of
them looked like charter boats. They all had big engines and they kept us
rocking pretty good in their wakes. The channel was very narrow and we
couldn't get far away
from them. But it was so nice to see other boats again that we really didn't
care about the wake.
We found a place to spend the night at Port Tarpon Marina. They were all
decorated for the holidays. The pastel seahorse statues were wearing Santa
hats, and the palm trees had giant candy canes hanging from their branches.
In the evening, several of the boats in the marina were all lit up with
Christmas lights. It was a very cheery place.
We spent the afternoon sleeping. We were slowly starting to eat again. None of us had eaten much for two days. Tricia held the record - 49 hours without food. Then we had to clean up the boat. The rocky waves had sent lots of things to the floor and we had felt too sick to pick them up. Our two hundred books had fallen off their shelf and onto the bed. Slowly but surely, we got everything back in order. We had lots of fun watching the mullet fishermen. They used motorized, flat- bottom rowboats. Two partners were in each boat. One stood at the back and worked the engine and the rudder. The other one stood in the bow of the boat with a big casting net. They would cruise around the river until they spotted a school of mullet, then the would scoot in fast, cast their net, and pull out fast. We never saw them pull up an empty net. They would usually have five to ten big silvery fish flopping out of their net. When one boat found a good spot, all of the others would come join them and try to strike first in just the right place. We talked to them and learned that they get $1 a pound for the fish. During the night while we were tied up to the dock, we kept hearing little pinging sounds around the outside of our boat. We learned that was the sound of the mullet and sheephead fish eating the algae off of our hulls.
Day 145 - Wednesday, December 13
Tarpon Springs, Florida
Mile 151 on the Intracoastal Waterway On our way to the marina yesterday, we had passed a big park with a beach along the river. We had noticed a nice anchoring area near the boat ramps there, so we headed back there today. The anchoring area was in a branch of the river that was a dead end. It was blocked by a long string of orange buoys because there was a large power plant nearby. When we pulled in, the bushy trees along the edge were covered with large, white blotches. When we got closer we found that the white blotches were pelicans roosting together in the branches. We spent the afternoon lying in the sun on the sandy beach in the park. Zion practiced anchoring his dinghy. Tricia and I explored the park and found a small Indian mound. Dan watched boaters going in and out of the boat ramps. We were amazed to see how busy the ramps were from sunup to sundown. I've never seen so many fishermen. It was just like one of the warmest summer weekends in Wisconsin, but here it was happening everyday! It felt so good to be in the sun again. In the evening, Dan and Zion dinghied over to visit the other sailboat in our anchorage, Viva. The captain, John, had some time to kill so he offered to take our family up the river in his dinghy so we could spend a day doing some sight-seeing in downtown Tarpon Springs. His dinghy had a motor, so that sounded like a good deal to us. Downtown Tarpon Springs was several miles up the river. It would have been difficult getting there in our big boat.
Day 146 - Thursday, December 14
Tarpon Springs, Florida
Mile 151 on the Intracoastal Waterway At ten o'clock John brought his rubber dinghy over to our boat. He could only hold three people in his, so we tied our dinghy to the back and the kids got pulled behind on our trip up the river. We must have looked pretty funny. The kids figured out how to shift their weight so they could make their boat cross left and right through the wake. It was a lot like steering a toboggan. Tarpon Springs has a great history. It was started by Greek sponge fishermen and at the turn of the century it was the Sponge Capital of the country. There are lots of old docks still in use for commercial fishing, and there are even a few sponge boats around offering sponge-fishing expeditions. There was a little dinghy dock where we could tie-up for the day, then we took off on foot. Our first stop was, of course, the library. We found the most beautiful library we had ever seen. The front concourse had a sky roof and green marble floors. The front glass doors were etched with pictures of King Neptune and mermaids. The check-out desks were done in faux tarnished copper, and a giant picture of sponge fisherman adorned the back wall. At the back of the concourse, behind the two-story windows, was a water fountain surrounded by a flowering garden. And best of all, there was a large bank of Internet computers to use and lots of used books to buy. Next we toured St. Nicholas Greek Orthodox Cathedral. The building was a replica of a Greek Orthodox church in Constantinople. It was filled with icons and candles and arches of gold. We lit some vigil lights in the back and said some prayers. Across the street was a Greek bakery. We got some cheese-filled buns and baklava for lunch, and we bought a loaf of olive bread and some garlic spread to take home with us. It was all delicious! We also found a large model railroad display and had a chance to talk with David Kelley, one of the crew that built the model. Mr. Kelley is now eighty years old, but looks much younger than that. He served in WWII and told us about the day when two-thirds of his platoon was killed. They started with 48 vehicles (tanks, trucks, etc.) and only had four left at the end of the day. We ended our day with a walk through the Greek souvenir shops along the river. They had sponges and carved wooden mermaids and squeaky rubber crabs to sell, along with lots of other neat stuff. The wooden mermaids would look great on the front of a boat, but since we have two hulls we would have to get two of them! We'll put them on our "would be nice to have someday but we don't really need them" list. We managed to get back to our boats just before dark. This time I rode with Zion in the back dinghy. There were still mullet fishermen racing about everywhere, and lots of other fishermen coming into the boat ramps. I would love to come back to Tarpon Springs again some day. It is a charming, unspoiled town with many more fascinating sights that we didn't have time to see.
Day 147 - Friday, December 15
Boca Ciega Bay near St. Petersburg, Florida
Mile 115 on the Intracoastal Waterway On the 15th we left Tarpon Springs & then traveled all day. That night we were in Boca Ciega Bay where we had to move our anchorage spot during the night because there were big waves on the side of the bay we were on (so we moved to the other side.) That's all I remember. -- Tricia Klos, reporting
Day 148 - Saturday, December 16
Gulfport City Marina near St. Petersburg, Florida
Mile 115 on the Intracoastal Waterway In the morning we motored over to the Gulfport City Marina. We felt very comfortable at the marina because 95% of the boats there were sailboats. They said that the power boats hung out at a different marina nearby. Everyone there was very friendly and helpful. We decided to stay for the weekend so we could attend the Quaker meeting in St. Petersburg. We met many boaters who had been to the Bahamas. One woman told me how they used to cruise regularly with their five children. She said our kids would love the Dry Tortugas (a set of islands near the Florida Keys). They are called Dry because there is no fresh water available there; you have to bring your own. But there are lots of great places for snorkeling. We were happy to learn that the marina was on the edge of St. Petersburg and if we walked a few blocks we could catch a city bus to take us downtown. We enjoyed walking through town to the bus stop and seeing all of the orange trees and hibiscus flowers in people's yards. Lots of people had poinsettas planted outside for the holidays. Palm trees lined the street. This was our first time on a city bus and we got lucky. The first one that passed by was headed downtown. The bus driver was very helpful and friendly and made sure we got off at the right stop. Downtown St. Petersburg is beautiful. It's full of pastel-colored high-rise buildings. We walked along the park on the edge of Tampa Bay. Our destination was a palm arboretum eight blocks north of downtown. The park we had to walk through was filled with Christmas decorations. There was a field of sad-looking pyramid shaped Christmas trees covered with very fake blue-green boughs. There were also some big light displays. North of the park was a beach with a few people out sunbathing and picnicing. Eventually we found the arboretum. The arboretum showcased palm trees from around the world. We learned the difference between a date palm and a Cuban royal palm and an Australian palm. I used to think that all palm trees were the same, but now I know better. The small palm bushes that we had seen in the bayous, and all over southern wildlands, are called palmettos. There was one large, bushy area of palms in the arboretum. Tricia went exploring inside the "jungle" and was surprised to find someone's home hidden deep inside. There was a small sleeping area and a pack full of clothes. I hope that whoever lives there is staying warm through the cold nights we've been having.
After the arboretum we walked back downtown looking for a place to eat. We passed by the Dysfunctional Family Restaurant and ended up at the end of The Pier. In downtown St. Pete there is a long pier that extends out into the Bay. At the end of the pier is an upside-down pyramid. The bottom floor has restaurants and shops inside, the second floor has an aquarium, the third floor is a Children's Museum and the top floor is an outdoor cafe and bar. From the top you can see the marinas on each side and the little airport that is nearby. We ate in the Food Court and then did a little Christmas shopping. As we left and headed back to the bus stop, it was getting dark and all of the Christmas lights came on. We took a little detour back through Bay Walk in the park. The sad-looking little trees that we had seen in the sunshine now looked like a magical forest of Christmas trees. There was one large light display that showed a Wrap-o-matic. Elves put presents in one end, then they were wrapped and given a bow and they came out the other end. A real, live Santa was sitting outside in his chair and boys and girls waited in long lines under the lighted canopy along the sidewalk. It was all very pretty and put us in the holiday mood.
Day 149 - Sunday, December 17
Boca Ciega Bay near St. Petersburg, Florida
Mile 115 on the Intracoastal Waterway We were very happy that we could finally attend a Quaker meeting again. And this one was large, so the kids were looking forward to being with some other teens. It's been a long time since they have had the chance to talk to other people their own age. We had called and asked if someone would pick us up, and Helen and Chris came to get us. We had a lot in common. They had taken their two children on a year-long trek across America in a motorhome, so they had a good idea of what we were going through. There were about fifty people at Meeting and a large group of kids for First Day School. The kids made Christmas decorations that they gave to the oldest people at meeting. After Meeting for Worship there were announcements and we learned that members were very active in social concerns. Some worked with the homeless in the city, some helped the Nicaraguans and one was on his way to a peace mission in Ireland. We were very glad to join them in their Christmas party. There was a potluck and Christmas caroling around the piano. It felt like Christmas meeting back home, but there weren't any dogsled rides through the snow. No piles of winter coats or puddles of melted snow on the floor from winter boots, just lots of sunshine and soft breezes. The kids sat on the grass outside and talked and took walks down to the nearby park. Dan and I stayed inside and talked to the other adults that were boaters, which seemed to be just about everyone. Some had sailboats, but no time to use them. Some had gone cruising many times with their children as they grew up. One woman had come down the rivers like we did many years ago and stopped when she got to St. Petersburg. But she had come in a small craft that didn't have an engine. They had to paddle real hard when they got sucked into an aftertow left by a tug. When the Christmas party was over Helen and Chris graciously invited us to their home for the afternoon. They said they could remember how nice it was just to sit in a real house with big rooms after spending months in a mobile home. They were right! They also asked if we needed anything from the store. I was stocked up on everything except Christmas presents, so I asked if they could take me to a department store. I wasn't sure if I would come across one before Christmas.
We went to Target and it reminded me how long it had been since I had been in a busy place full of busy people. It was all a little overwhelming. Life on sailboats is very slow-paced when your average speed is five miles per hour. The store was so busy that there weren't any shopping carts left. You had to wait for someone to empty one in the check-out line! It certainly made me realize that Christmas was coming soon. When the shopping was done, Helen took us back to our boat. We had to leave the marina before dark. We didn't have to go far. We went back to our Friday night anchorage spot in Boca Ciega Bay and had a good night's sleep.
Day 150 - Monday, December 18
Roberts Bay near Sarasota, Florida
Mile 72 on the Intracoastal Waterway Today we put some serious miles behind us. Well, a few anyway. We were travelling along the west coast of Florida, between the coast and the barrier islands. All of this area is developed, so there are lots of bridges crossing from the mainland to the islands. Most of these bridges are low because the distance they cross is short. That means they have to lift up for sailboats and big fishing boats to pass thru. We stopped traffic several times today. But we usually weren't alone. There are lots of other boats out, too. In fact, the bridges lift so often down here that they do it on a regular schedule. Usually they lift every fifteen minutes. You just have to wait around until the bridge goes up. The wind was strong from the north, making it cool out, but also making it a good day for sailing. We have to motor-sail under the bridges because it's not safe to just use your sails. Right when you are under the bridge the wind is often blocked and your boat will suddenly slow down if you don't have the engine going. We passed through the city of Sarasota. It was very colorful. There was a large purple auditorium and bright lime green building nearby. We learned later that Sarasota is a center for the arts, making it a bit more colorful than most towns. We found a nice, protected spot to anchor within a group of islands. Most of the islands were nothing but mangrove trees sprouting out of the water. These little bush islands were covered with hundreds of water birds, especially white egrets and pelicans. They were beautiful. We were on the south side of two large islands because we needed protection from the north wind. We could see a little beach on one of them.
Day 151 - Tuesday, December 19
Roberts Bay near Sarasota, Florida
Mile 72 on the Intracoastal Waterway Today was a nasty day - cold, rainy and extremely windy. We stayed put because we were in a nice protected spot. Later in the afternoon the sun started to peek out so we put the dinghy into the water. Zion and I wanted to check out the island with the beach.
Zion did the rowing against the wind and the waves. When we got closer to the
island we saw a rope hanging from a big tree on the beach and some remnants of
campfires. It looked like a place where boaters would come to have picnics.
The rope could be used for swinging above the water and jumping in. There
were some unusual shells in the clear water. We even found a little red
Zion and I hiked inland a little bit and came to a ridge that was about ten
feet high and four feet wide at the top. We followed along the top of it
because that was the easiest way to get through the overgrown trees and
bushes. We passed through a grove of green-leaved trees that were covered
with tiny bright red berries. Some of the berries had dropped so the ground
was a carpet of red, too. It was a beautiful sight. I learned later that
these were Brazilian pepper trees, a non-native species that has spread over
southern Florida. The red and green reminded me of Christmas so I picked a
bouquet for our boat.
As we kept following the top of the ridge it took us all around the edge of
the island. After awhile we realized it was in the shape of a
big square. Not at all natural. But there were no other signs of
the small island. It was a real puzzle.
On our way back to the boat, Zion found a big coconut laying on the beach. It
still had its husk on. When we shook it, we could hear the milk inside. We
decided it might actually be fresh so we took it back with us. Near the
we passed through another amazing grove of trees. These were like pine trees,
but the needles were long, thin and segmented like a club moss. The needles
were so wispy that the grove looked like a patch of greenish-gray fog.
Another beautiful sight. I picked some of that for our bouquet, too.
When we got back to the boat, Dan and Tricia were amazed at all of the unusual
things we had found. I thought we could put the starfish into our shell
collection, but Tricia wasn't convinced that it was dead. It felt hard to the
touch so it seemed dead to me. Tricia put it in a bowl of water just to
check. Sure enough, after an hour it looked like the star was a different
shape. We watched it closely and realized it was still alive, so we threw it
back in the water.
Zion was busy trying to figure out how to open his coconut. Using a big knife and lots of whacking, he got the hull off. It was about two inches thick, very brown and fibrous. It had a grain from top to bottom and would peel easily in that direction (like a banana), but cutting across it was almost impossible. Removing the hull left us with the nut in the center that was as hard as a rock. First, we got out the electric drill. It easily went through the eyes of the coconut and we were able to pour out the milk. It was clear and whitish and tasted like coconut, but it wasn't sweet. Since no one wanted to drink all of it, we cooked some rice in it. Best of all, the milk was fresh so we knew our coconut was a good one. Then we took a hammer to the rest of the nut and cracked it into pieces. A thin knife popped out the meat and we had a nice snack.
Day 152 - Wednesday, December 20
Public Dock in Venice, Florida
Mile 58 on the Intracoastal Waterway Our mission today was to find shark teeth. Helen had told us that we could find some on Venice Beach. We motor-sailed down to the city of Venice. We turned into the Venice Harbor and saw boats everywhere. In fact, there were streets of water running between all of the houses so everyone could have a boat in their back yard. We found a little public dock that is really, really, boring! not like *nsync, they're not boring at all!!! they r totally hip & cool!!! but not as cool as aaron carter, he is really, super COOL! those guys rock!!!!!!!! r u still reading this? 'cause i have 1 more thing i have 2 say 2 u: aaron carter rocks!!!!!!!!!!!!!! The dock was empty when we saw it, but two boats pulled in ahead of us. One was a sailboat with a family that had two small children. They were spending their Christmas vacation on a sailboat they had chartered for the week and they were freezing! This cold spell was unusual for the area, so the sailboat didn't have many blankets on board and they hadn't brought along much winter clothes. But they seemed to be enjoying themselves anyway. Grandma and Grandpa were in the other boat. We could stay at the dock for free for eighteen hours. Before looking for the beach, we searched for the post office. We had a few more letters we needed to mail before Christmas. There were rows of tall condominiums lining the coast. The downtown was old- fashioned and beautiful. There was a long, broad boulevard through town and it was lined with palm trees. The boulevard was a park with little paths you could walk along. We found the post office and the library. We checked out e-mails while Zion checked out the Florida history book collection. He searched for some information on the little island he had discovered. It took some searching, but he found a reference to a small supply fort that was situated on the river between some other forts. It only operated for a few years. He's guessing that we might have found the remains of the supply fort. On our way back to the boat we saw a little parade going through town. There were horns honking everywhere while the high school football team was being driven through town on a flat-bed truck. They had just won the state championship by a score of 77 to 14, so I guess they had a little bit to brag about. We stopped at a little shop for some hot pretzls, then checked out the beach. It was too dark to do any shelling, but we were encouraged because the big sign for the beach used a picture of a shark's tooth to spell out the "V" in Venice. We must be on the trail. Tomorrow morning we would see what we could find.
Day 153 - Thursday, December 21
Royal Palm Marina in Englewood, Florida
Mile 46 on the Intracoastal Waterway We got up early and hit the beach. We all searched diligently for half an hour, but none of us could find any shark teeth. Then a kind woman on the beach, a veteran tooth collector, helped us out. She showed us the teeth that she had found that morning and gave us her best one so we wouldn't go home empty-handed. Suddenly, we started finding them everywhere. We ended up with about twenty of them. They are so cool! They are dark black and have very sharp points. As we walked down the beach we found a wooden crab trap that had been blown up onto the shore. We opened up the little door and actually found a blue crab still inside! We took him out and he was still alive, but not moving too well, so we set him free and put him back in the sea. We hope he recovers from his ordeal. After going back to the boat we motored down to Royal Palm Marina in Englewood. It was time for laundry and groceries again. I was surprised to find that their washer and dryer were outside, in a protected area under the stairs. I stayed up under the stars doing my laundry that night. I folded it on picnic tables.
Day 154 - Friday, December 22
Don Pedro Island, Florida
Mile 37 on the Intracoastal Waterway In the morning Tricia and I walked about a mile to the grocery store. Englewood was a pretty little town and the main street was undergoing extensive renovation. Patterned brick sidewalks were being laid and rows of palm trees were being planted. We were surprised (and pleased) to find a super-giant-mega grocery store in the little town. It's called Publix, and they are all over Florida. It had everything we could possibly want, including fresh-baked bread and cinnamon rolls for Christmas morning. We heaped two carts full of groceries because Kevin, the store manager, had graciously agreed to give us a ride back to our boat. We loaded everything on the boat, then took off. The wind was blowing from the north so it was a good day for sailing. We anchored off the channel near Don Pedro Island.
Day 155 - Saturday, December 23
Southwest of Punta Blanca Island, near Cayo Costa State Park, Florida
Mile 24 on the Intracoastal Waterway We had another great day for sailing. Our destination was Cayo Costa, a barrier island that is a state park. There is no bridge to it, and the only way to get there is by boat. We arrived in the afternoon. We anchored nearby the dock for the park and took our dinghy to shore. The good wind also made good waves, so the dinghy ride was pretty bouncy. Getting attached to the floating dinghy dock was a trick with the waves crashing off the rocks on shore. We found that the north end of the island was full of nature trails, and an arboretum of native plants. We finally learned that the bush with the large, round leaves that we had been admiring for weeks was a sea grape. There was a one-mile trail that led across the island to the Gulf shore. On the Gulf shore were some tent sites and some rustic cabins. People would come into the docks on a ferry with all of their camping supplies, then a tram would take them and their stuff across the island to the camping area. We helped one family carry a propane tank up the dock to the tram. This place was for serious campers. Very few amenities, except nature itself. Lots of space and very, very few people. We loved it! After checking it out, we went back to our boat. We needed to find a protected anchorage for the night because the wind and waves were kicking up. We found the perfect spot right across the bay, tucked into a cove on Punta Blanca Island. The only trick was getting into it. There was a sand bar that stretched across the entrance to the deep cove. We had to try three times before we found an opening in the sand bar that was deep enough for us to pass through. One other boat was already tucked into the protected cove, but there was still plenty of room for us. The water was nice and calm all night. We got everything cleaned up and ready for Christmas, because the next day was Christmas Eve and we wanted to spend the sunny hours on the beach of Cayo Costa.
Day 156 - Saturday, December 24 - CHRISTMAS EVE
Southwest of Punta Blanca, near Cayo Costa State Park, Florida
Mile 24 on the Intracoastal Waterway We packed up a picnic lunch and our beach gear and headed for the sun. We can't all fit in the dinghy at once, so we had to make two trips. It was sunny and in the sixties, but still windy. Our boat was anchored quite a way from the dock, so Zion got a work-out rowing Tricia and I against the wind and the waves. Eventually, we were all together on Cayo Costa and started walking across toward the beach. There were a few tents in the campgrounds and about twenty rustic cabins. A few people were around, but not many. We walked down the beach looking for the perfect secluded spot on the Gulf. The farther we walked, the more shells we found. We started seeing dried-up little red sea urchins here and there. As we walked farther, we started seeing piles of them. Some of them were so old that the tentacles had all fallen off, leaving a beautiful globe-shaped shell. Dan found some nice big ones that weren't broken. We found a spot where the Gulf formed some shallow lagoons in the island. We stopped there. Zion walked out in the water to do some fishing and amazed us by finding a giant conch shell under the water. And it was still alive! People had told us that we would be eating a lot of conch in the Bahamas, but we just couldn't imagine what kind of animal lived inside of one of those beautiful, twisted shells. Now we know. The animal is a giant black blob with a hard shell foot. The blob could easily equal a pound of hamburger, it is so big. We put the conch back in its home since we were in a state park and there weren't very many around. Zion did find a few more during the rest of the day. One was different - it had longer spikes on its shell and a bright red blob inside. We think it was a fighting conch. It must have been about eighteen inches long.
After lunch Dan and Tricia made some Florida snowmen out of sand while Zion
and I took a long walk around the lagoons and the deserted beach. We kept
finding amazing new shells that we had never seen before. We would quickly
pick up the unique ones, and then later we would come to a spot where there
were hundreds of the type of shell that we had thought was unique. Then we
would throw back the original one and search through the hundreds for the most
perfect one. We rounded one curve and found a stretch of beach that can only
be described as a shell graveyard. There were thousands of shells lying
stranded in a broad plateau of sand.
When you are shelling, anything that is rare is considered special and you add
it to your collection. You think it is the most beautiful thing until you
find a different beach where there are hundreds of the same shell, then
suddenly it becomes common and it doesn't seem to be worth as much even though
it is still as beautiful as it was before. It makes me think how lucky we are
that every human being is unique. You never find carbon copies of the same
person, so that keeps each one of us special all of the time.
By the time we got back to Dad and Tricia, we had as many great shells as we
could carry. We had all found several horseshoe crab shells of different
sizes. We didn't want to take them with us because it's hard to find one that
doesn't stink, so we took a picture of them "attacking" Zion. Then we left
them all on the beach for someone else to find and play with.
As the sun was setting, we headed back to the boat. It was time for Christmas
Eve dinner and prayers and presents. We always open our family presents on
Christmas Eve and save our Santa presents for Christmas morning.
The kids did a great job of shopping. Zion gave me a carved wooden dolphin chimes that looks lovely hanging above the galley. He gave Dan a fun game called Pin Art. It's a plate full of silver pins that you can hold against an object, like your face, and the pins reflect the shape. It might not sound like much, but it's a fascinating thing to play with. We keep it on our table because it gets used so much. And he gave Tricia a cat book that identifies all of the different kinds of cats with beautiful pictures. Tricia gave me a stained glass picture frame with a beautiful shell on it. And, best of all, inside the frame she put a picture from a previous Christmas where she and I were sitting side-by-side in our matching dresses at Grandma's house. She gave Dad a Florida t-shirt which was a great addition to his scant wardrobe. And she gave Zion a bag of red things. There's a story to go with this. Years ago, when she was little, she gave Zion a bag of red things for his birthday. She knew he liked red, so she collected all of the red toys that he already had and put them in a bag for him on this birthday. She wrote a cute little card that said "Happy Birthday and I hope you like the color red". Zion was not very impressed with the gift, since he already owned all of the items in the bag. Well, when we were cleaning out the house in October we found that old card. Tricia decided to use it again for Christmas, but this time she filled the bag with NEW red stuff. It's a good thing that Tricia and Zion were good shoppers, because Mom was far too practical with her gifts. There were lots of them, but they were all some kind of food or drink, like candy or Sobe or Mentos. The biggest disappointment were the little cases that sounded like some kind of jewelry when they were wrapped. They were really TicTacs. Tricia exercised a great deal of self control and decided to open only one present a day so they would last longer. The thrill was gone, though, because she already could tell what they all were just by feeling them. We all had a good laugh as the kids proclaimed this was the most "pitiful" Christmas ever (while chowing down on all of the treats). They went to bed with only dim hopes for Christmas morning.
Day 157 - Monday, December 25 - CHRISTMAS DAY
Captiva Island, Florida
Mile 13 on the Intracoastal Waterway When we awoke on Christmas morning we found that Santa had filled our socks with more goodies to eat. And these were our real socks, not the fake, fancy Christmas kind. There were also a few presents. Tricia got Christina Aquilera and Now 5 CDs while Zion got Pink Floyd's "The Wall" CD and some new boxer shorts. They were both very happy.
After a breakfast of cinnamon rolls and bacon, we watched the Christmas play
that the kids had prepared. It was called "The Christmas Spirit". It was
written and directed by Tricia. They had been practicing in secret for days,
and directing one's brother is never an easy task. They had costumes and sets
and they even sang for us. We thought it was great (as any parents would!)
In the afternoon we had to leave for Captiva Island. My friend, Jeanne, from Chicago was spending Christmas week with her family on Sanibel Island (next to Captiva). We had made plans to meet her and take her sailing on the day after Christmas. Since the north side of Sanibel Island was a Wildlife Refuge with very shallow waters, we needed to find a place to meet them on Captiva. Plus, we wanted to make Christmas phone calls to our families so we needed to get back to civilization. It was a beautiful, warm, sunny day with a strong wind from the north. It was one of the best sailing days we have ever had. There were lots of other boats out on the holiday. Some sailors were wearing Santa hats. We quickly got to Captiva and made our phone calls to Jeanne and our families back home.
Day 158 - Tuesday, December 26
Cape Coral City Marina, Florida
Mile 144 on the Okeechobee Waterway We met Jeanne and her brother-in-law, Tom, at a gas dock on Captiva Island. We let Tricia go with Jeanne's father back to their beach-side apartment for the day. Sailing for fun didn't seem like much of a treat to Tricia and she was glad to get out of it. I was excited to have a chance to visit with an old friend. It was such an amazing coincidence that this meeting actually worked out. We were treated to a great day for sailing. The winds were strong, about 20 mph, and they were at our back most of the time. The sun was bright and it was actually pretty warm. We had a good sail down to the Sanibel Island bridge, then we went under it and out into the Gulf for a little bit. Tom enjoyed having the chance to be the one stopping traffic for a change. We went down the coast a bit then came back, stopping traffic on the bridge again, and ended the day at Cape Coral Marina at the mouth of the Caloosahatchee River. The Caloosahatchee connects to Lake Okeechobee which is our next destination on our way to the Bahamas. Jeanne's family picked her up and brought Tricia back to us safe and sound. We made plans to meet again the next day and do some sight-seeing in Fort Myers.
Day 159 - Wednesday, December 27
Cape Coral City Marina, Florida
Mile 144 on the Okeechobee Waterway Jeanne met us in the morning with her father's van. The big attraction in Fort Myers is the winter estate of Thomas Edison and Henry Ford. Thomas Edison spent his winters in Fort Myers, and his good friend Henry Ford bought a neighboring house so he could be close by. Edison's widow donated the estate to the city of Fort Myers as long as they promised to use it as a memorial to Edison. Edison and his wife were interested in plants and developed a beautiful botanical garden around their home. The highlight is a Banyan tree from India. The tree is so large that you would need over a hundred people to make a circle around its trunk. Its branches drop down roots. When the roots reach the ground they grow into a new trunk to support the large horizontal branches. Often the roots are so close together that the trunks blend together into monster trunks. I never knew that a tree could be so large. We also saw a sausage tree and a cannonball tree and lots of other exotic plants. There was even a stand of bamboo that was native to the area. They say that Edison bought the land because of the bamboo that was on it. There were also flowering bushes and colorful croton hedges everywhere. We took a tour of the homes and Edison's workshop. While in Fort Myers, Edison worked on developing a new source of rubber. That is part of the reason why he grew so many plants. He eventually determined that the best source of rubber was the common goldenrod plant. He cultivated fields of them until he got goldenrod plants that were twelve feet high. Only the smallest leaves on the plant produced the latex needed to make rubber. It took one hundred pounds of these leaves to make sixteen pounds of rubber. Eventually, goldenrod rubber was no longer made because it was uneconomical. But Edison did find the way to do it. The museum had rooms filled with Edison's inventions. I had no idea that Edison had invented so many things. He had hundreds of patents. He got his start as a telegraph operator. He was very fast at sending messages, but he kept getting in trouble because he was always fooling around with the equipment. His first invention was a group of four telegraph machines that could share the same line. He started his own telegraph company using this invention and became a business owner by his mid-twenties. He went on to invent the phonograph, motion pictures, improvements for electric generation and storage batteries, and, of course, the light bulb. An interesting note for Wisconsinites - he owned a wood-products company in New London that manufactured the wooden boxes for his phonographs. When sales of phonographs dipped because of the invention of radio, Edison worried about what to do with the hundreds of workers at the New London company. Wanting to keep them employed, he started a line of Edison children's furniture (everything he made carried the name Edison). He designed a clever high chair that could be taken apart and made into a child's table and chair as the child grew. I left feeling amazed that one man could create so many new things. It seems that he was constantly inventing, making some things that died away, like the electric pen, and some things that opened the way to entire new industries, like electric light bulbs and motion pictures. It was interesting to see that Edison always invented things for practical purposes and often had no idea of what they would eventually be used for. He invented phonographs so businesses could record voice messages for the steno pool to type. He didn't do it so people could hear music in their homes. He invented motion pictures so businesses could create training films. He didn't know it would spawn movie stars and multi-plexes. At the end of the day we said thank you and good-bye to Jeanne, promising to see her again in Chicago next fall.
Day 160 - Thursday, December 28
On the Caloosahatchee River east of Fort Myers, Florida
Mile 128 on the Okeechobee Waterway Today was the end of the sunny skies that we've had for the last few days. Dark clouds came in from the west, bringing light rain. We left the marina at noon and used our headsail in the strong winds. There were Manatee Area signs everywhere, but we didn't see any of the big animals. They usually stay deep and they only stick out their snouts occasionally for air. They are difficult to spot. We found a protected anchorage behind a mangrove island in the river. After supper we realized that our anchor was dragging. The river bottom was so silty that our anchor hadn't set. We moved in closer to the island and we dropped a second anchor in the dark. It took some work, but they held all night.
Day 161 - Friday, December 29
Public Dock in LaBelle, Florida
Mile 103 on the Okeechobee Waterway We went further up the Caloosahatchee River today. It is a real wilderness here. Waterbirds like cormorant, heron, egret and pelicans are everywhere. We stopped at a friendly public dock in LaBelle. The sign said that we could stay for three days. There was even water and electricity available on the dock, and a park nearby with bathrooms. And best of all, the library was right across the street.
The only trick was that we had to pull in bow-to or stern-to. Usually we pull alongside a dock. This was our first time tying up bow-first at a dock. We had to drop a back anchor. While Dan and Zion were getting all of that done, Tricia and I checked out our e-mail at the library. The librarian was very helpful and friendly. They had a guest book for boaters to register in. The only bad part was that the library closed at five o'clock, and it wouldn't open again until Tuesday because of the holiday weekend. Bummer! We did some quick e- mails then went back to the boat. While we were gone another sailboat pulled in. It was a family from Port Charlotte that had two children on board, 14-year-old Cindy and 9-year-old Lisa. Our kids were very happy to finally meet some other kids their age. They played together non-stop all evening, actually until midnight. The other family had to leave in the morning to get back home before school starts on Tuesday. Another bummer!
Day 162 - Saturday, December 30
Public Dock in LaBelle, Florida
Mile 103 on the Okeechobee Waterway Some new sailboaters came to join us at the dock today. There was a couple from New Jersey and their friends from Ontario, Canada. They were headed to Fort Myers, where we had come from. They were seeking heat. They had left their homes in fall and they hadn't been anyplace warm yet. Another couple at the dock was from Boston. They even had the proper Boston accents which made them lots of fun to listen to. They had been to the Bahamas several times, so they gave us some good info on where to go and what charts to use. They said we would find lots of other boating kids in Georgetown. The boating kids have their own organized activities there, like parties and dinghy races. We're looking forward to getting there soon. The Canadians told us that there were hundreds of boats along the Florida east coast waiting for a good opportunity to cross to the Bahamas. The weather had been bad for a few weeks and no one had been able to leave. They also said that one of the boats waiting there was from Quebec and it had a family with six kids on board! They all spoke French. They said we would easily recognize their boat because it was big and it was named "Six Kids". The weather today was cold and extremely windy. Our anchor wasn't holding our back end out very well. It kept slipping along the silty river bottom and the front of our boat would hit the dock. Dan and Zion worked on securing it all morning but it was difficult because of the strong wind. They eventually ended up with a l-o-n-g rope tied to a sturdy palm tree trunk on shore. That kept us in place very well. The smaller sailboats tied off to us and nobody moved anymore. The kids and I walked into town in the afternoon and did some errands. LaBelle was the perfect-sized town for us. It had everything we needed, like a grocery store and post office, and it was small enough so we could easily walk everywhere. The grocery store was huge, and it had a large selection of Mexican foods. There were all kinds of peppers and tomatillos and other unusual vegetables in the produce department and there were tables and shelves packed with tortillas everywhere. Our dock was near the bridge and we saw semi-trucks loaded with oranges going past constantly. The oranges were usually in three large cages on the back of the truck. Sometimes the cages held black stuff. Our friends told us that the black stuff was sugar cane. It was black because they had to burn it to get it off the fields. When we were in town we saw dumptrucks go by with squashed oranges. It looked like the leftovers from making orange juice. Those trucks smelled great!
Day 163 - Sunday, December 31 - NEW YEAR'S EVE
Public Dock in LaBelle, Florida
Mile 103 on the Okeechobee Waterway Today some boats left and some new ones came, but our Canadian/New Jersey friends stayed. They had decided to spend a few days at the dock because it was so nice. It was still very cold, especially at night. It was getting down below freezing at night and we would wake up with a film of ice covering our boat. The news reports kept saying how unusually cold this weather was. Luckily, it wasn't hurting the orange crops. The oranges had already ripened and the farmers said that cold nights actually make the oranges sweeter. They expect to sell more because the fruit will taste so good. There was a grapefruit tree dropping it's fruit in the park, so we tried two big ones. They were white grapefruit with lots of pucker-power and lots of seeds, but still good if you sprinkled on a little sugar. In town we stopped at a roadside market where they were selling oranges, grapefruit and tangerines, ten for a dollar. We bought a bagful of each. The skins weren't as perfect as what you find in the grocery store, but they were big and delicious on the inside which is all that really matters anyway. The day was cold but there wasn't a cloud in the sky, so I set up my solar oven on the dock. I finally had a chance to make the Chex Mix that Zion had requested for Christmas. We also made some Peanut Butter Balls for Tricia and some Coconut-Date Balls for me. I had to guess at the recipes because I didn't have them along. The dates seemed so dry that I added more water than I should have. When I added the rice crispy cereal, the crispies merrily snapped, crackled and popped until they were nothing but mush. I poured in some more coconut to soak up the moisture. Oh well, the date balls weren't as crispy as they should have been, but they were good anyway. Next year I'll follow the old recipe. When we were in town today we learned why there were so many tortillas at the grocery store. There were busloads of Hispanic farmworkers at the grocery store stocking up on food. The white buses waited in the parking lot for them. Most of the tortillas in the store were now gone. Many of the men waited patiently in line at the pay phones outside of the store. I suppose it was their chance to call home and talk to their families. In the evening we were invited to a little party on the Canadian's boat. They sang funny folk songs and played the guitar, and Tricia contributed a carol on her recorder. At midnight, you could hear people around town shooting off fireworks. The boaters shot off their old, expired flares and honked their boat horns. No one could have slept through that! Happy 2001!
Day 164 - Sunday, January 1 - NEW YEAR'S DAY
Public Dock in LaBelle, Florida
Mile 103 on the Okeechobee Waterway Everyone on the dock slept late. We watched the Rose Parade on TV and even saw the Ashwaubenon High School Band from Green Bay! That was a welcome surprise. In the afternoon we got everything ready so we could take off the next morning.
We took a walk in the neighboring park. We saw an otter swimming in the
river. The park is filled with giant old live
oaks. These trees have long, far-reaching branches that form a canopy above
the ground. The city had built a stage with a bandstand in the middle of
these trees, and the audience benches were covered by the natural canopy of
the trees. The trees were dripping with Spanish moss, and the horizontal
branches were covered with living green ferns and air plants. It is the most
beautiful park I've ever seen.
Air plants look like green spider plants. They attach themselves to the oak trees, but they don't have many roots. Lots of them fall of the trees and ly in the grass. That's another thing we've noticed. It's hard to find any real grass down here. It looks like grass from a distance, but when you look close it's coarse and dry and comes in all sorts of odd shapes. They don't have the lush, soft stuff that we're used to. And they have lots of nasty stuff that pricks you in the feet. You wouldn't want to walk barefoot in the grass down here. Throughout the day more boats pulled up to the dock until it was full. In the evening a tired little sailboat came in and we let it tie off next to us, under our palm tree line. Tony and Micki were bringing their boat from Fort Myers to their home in Orlando. Tony is an avid fisherman, but they were tired of spending $100 a day on gas for their fishing boat so they had decided to get a sailboat. They found one in Fort Myers that was short, but extra wide. The owner had died seven years ago and the rest of the family wasn't interested in it. It had been sitting in the marina, neglected, for a long time. They said it was black with dirt, inside and out. Tony and Micki spent a month cleaning it, patching it and getting the engine to work again so they could motor it home. They had been living on it while they were fixing it, but they had just put it back in the water a few days ago. This was their first trip on it. The sails weren't ready to use yet, and they didn't have a radio or a GPS. Their engine was old, so they were being easy on it and only going about 3 knots. They were certainly roughing it, and happy to find a safe shelter for the night. Soon the Caloosahatchee River would end, and it would be time to make the six-hour trip across Lake Okeechobee. We offered to go with them across the lake so they wouldn't have to do it alone.